Roadside-attraction showdown: The Beardmore snowman

This jolly, happy soul has won a regional roadside-attraction contest before. Now, he's taking on the whole province
By Charnel Anderson - Published on Jul 23, 2021
The Beardmore snowman is made of steel framing covered in stucco. (Courtesy of Brent Henley)



Maybe you’ve already been to Niagara Falls or up to the top of the CN Tower. But have you made a pit stop near a giant goose? Or snapped a selfie next to a giant wheel of cheese?

Those are just a couple of the roadside attractions on offer in towns and cities across Ontario, which have devised unusual and eye-catching ways of setting their communities apart.

If you’re looking for summertime fun close to home, you can hit the road and check out these local legends. If you’re looking for summertime fun even closer to home, you can check in with over the next two months — each week, we’ll be bringing you profiles of the weirdest, wackiest, and largest objects gracing Ontario’s roadways.

At the end of August, you’ll get the chance to pick your favourites when we open up the voting brackets. So travel Ontario with us, and get ready for a showdown.

Check out the other contestants here.

All year round, there is a giant snowman in Beardmore. He is unusual “in that he is not only the biggest but also the longest lasting of his ilk,” writes Canadian novelist Jane Urquhart in her book A Number of Things: Stories of Canada Told Through Fifty Objects. “That is, if one defines his ilk as fellow snowmen, and ignores the fact that he has been torn down at least once.” 

a giant snowman sculpture with a person standing in front
The Beardmore snowman was originally constructed in 1960. (Twitter/Greenstone Tourism)

The town of Beardmore — known for its abundant snowfall — was settled sometime after 1914, when the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway established a flag station in the area. Beardmore’s economy benefited from the Sturgeon River goldrush in the 1930s and from other mineral extraction through to the 1960s, but when the mining dried up, the town’s economy became reliant on commercial fishing and tourism. In 2001, Beardmore and three other communities amalgamated to become the municipality of Greenstone. 

In 1960, Canada’s largest snowman was unveiled beside the Trans-Canada Highway in Beardmore as a way to promote the town and its ski hill, explains Brent Henley, Greenstone’s tourism coordinator. The over 10-metre-tall snowman — made of plywood supported by metal beams and finished with acrylic epoxy paint — was the result of a partnership between the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and the township of Beardmore. 

A snowman was fitting, explains Henley, because Beardmore, near Lake Nipigon, gets a lot of snow. “I don’t now if it’s got something to do with the lake effect,” Henley says. “But for some reason, every year, you can always count on Beardmore having more snow than the other communities within Greenstone.” 

a large snowman sculpture with a built-in concession stand
The snowman once had a hollow belly that served as a tourist stand and then a concession stand. (Courtesy of Denise Cote)

The first snowman had a hollow belly that was used as a tourist centre, before becoming a concession stand that sold chips and ice cream. It might also, Urquhart writes, have been used as a “temporary home for certain patrons of the Beardmore Lounge (who apparently have a key and are rumoured to sometimes sleep it off inside the snowman before going home to face the ire of their women).” 

In 1998, after sustaining fire damage, the snowman was replaced with a similar structure made of steel framing covered in stucco and clad in a top hat and sunglasses. The snowman, who remains unnamed, also has seasonal accessories, such as a fishing rod in the summer and a curling broom in the winter. Henley says that reflects the local passion for curling and the “top-notch fishing” on Lake Nipigon: “He’s kind of letting out our secrets.” 

a large snowman sculpture from a distance
The snowman is decked out with seasonal accessories. (Courtesy of Brent Henley)

Denise Cote, Greenstone’s accounting clerk and receptionist, says the number of visitors to the snowman fluctuates each year, but she estimates between 6,000 and 10,000 people visit the snowman annually. 

Beardmore’s snowman is northern Ontario’s defending roadside-attraction champion, having beaten out Husky the Muskie and others to win CBC Thunder Bay’s “roadside rumble” contest in 2015, explains Henley. “We’ve got that title already, so we’re defending champs here. We’re looking to go back to the Tampa Bay Lightning winning the Stanley Cup this year.” 

The previous instalment: Amaranth’s giant golf bag.

Next up: Perth's big cheese.

This is one in a series of stories about issues affecting northwestern Ontario. It's brought to you in partnership with Confederation College of Applied Arts and Technology. Views and opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the college. 

Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman. 

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